Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A kitchen sink history and mystery

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" (not my words - they belong to Dodie Smith and start her novel "I Capture the Castle"). I've borrowed them for the day because there are times when I feel I've taken up permanent residence in front of the sink. At least in the Spring and Summer the view from the kitchen window is pretty and distracting. I wonder how many women have stood at the same spot, looking at the same view, thinking the same thing!
The first woman to have stood here looking out into her garden was Emily Jane, she was 37 years old when her name appeared over a hundred years ago in the census at this address. The view would of course have altered over the years but our garden has offered us clues as to what she might have seen.
We live on top of a hill overlooking the city, a century ago this area was known as "laundry hill" deriving its name from the number of laundries private and commercial in the area. The air was cleaner here being high above the smoky town and breezier too and the larger gardens offered drying ground for the washing. Emily Jane worked as a private laundress in this house, taking in washing with her two sisters-in-law, Susan and Caroline, who also lived here. I like to think that these three ladies had a nice little business set up but the reality would have been very different, the work monotonous and hard and any earnings would probably have helped just to make ends meet.

Our garden has 3 existing old trees but we have found several old tree stumps and I think that these trees were once used as posts for washing lines and our garden would have been full of laundry drying in the wind (much as it is today but, thankfully, now on a smaller scale!).

Emily Jane had no children but her niece, Bessie, lived here too. It would be good to think that this little group of women had some fun together in their home and were able to enjoy living here as much as we do.
The only man about the house (just like ours) was Emily's husband, John Gilbert. There was a windmill at the end of the road and John was a miller/baker - maybe he didn't have too far to go to work in the mornings! In honour of John and Emily we have some old linen flour bags framed in the kitchen and an assortment of laundry signs and boxes.
Now to the mystery - when we were digging a patch of ground near the kitchen door, we uncovered a set of tools! Not enormous tools, ranging in size from approx 4 inches to 6inches. There were eight of them in total, each has a little lip at the top, presumably so that they could be hung from something. They look like craftsman's tools but that's just a guess (my husband thinks he has seen something similar at a potter's). They could be something or nothing, but they did belong to somebody and it would be lovely to find out who and find out a little more about their story too.

These glimpses of past lives (and they are nothing more than that) have added an extra dimension to our home and we hope to reveal more of its secrets and stories over the years, discovering more about the people who have shared our house.


Cape Cod Washashore said...

You know, Kim, my mother-in-law is a potter, and I do think those are potter's tools! =) How exciting to find pieces of your home's past! The house I grew up in had been in our family for 100 years (4 generations of my family lived there). When my dad dug the ground for a new foundation for an addition onto the house, we found an old clay marble and an 1856 penny ~ these must have both been pre U.S. Civil War. Our house itself was built at the end of the Civil War (1865) so I imagine those treasures may have been dropped by the original owners or builders of the house!

Naturegirl said...

How interesting your story was!I have always lived in new homes so I make the memories. hugs NG

PurpleFlowerFairy said...

i just wanted to let you know that my package arrived today and i LOVE it!!!!! thanks you so much for all of the "extra" pretties and your packaging was to die for! i had had a rough day at work and what a wonderful goodie box to come home to. thanks bunches and bunches! debbie

Victoria May Plum said...

Hi Kim,
Thankyou for such a fascinating post, and what a lovely story! It is so nice that you have chosen to include elements of your houses history in your home.
Now I am off to (hopefully)discover some interesting stories about my new cottage.
Victoria x

Primrose Hill said...

Hi Kim,
Fab post, I love reading info like that about old houses, I find it fascinating.
We're not sure how old our little cottage is, I need to do a bit of research, so far we've only dug up rubbish! Maybe one day we'll find some treasures like you have. We're next to what was on old mill, hence our cottage is called Mill of Fyall Cottage, so definitely some investigating to be done. We're lucky enough to have the old mill stone in our garden though, I think the previous owners pinched it from the Mill!
L x

Boxwood Cottage said...

Kim that first picture is stunning! Lovely story, lovely home I'm sure! Enjoy the view out of your kitchen window!

AC said...

How great to have such interesting historical facts about your house and those that previously lived in it. It will be great to find out what those tools were used for.
Thanks for sharing it with us Kim.
Alison x.

Gypsy Purple said...

What a totally, totally lovely post!!!!

ginny said...

Such a lovely and fascinating post which gives such a sense of time and respect for history and the lives which have gone before. I love that connection of time old routine tasks. Washing on an old wash board whilst camping in France gives me that same feeling.. immediate..physical.. such a here and now experience, yet connects me to women through the centuries.
Feel a handwashing session coming on!

Berber said...

What a wonderful piece of history! And what a treasure you found in your garden!

Darla said...

How interesting it is to hear about the history of your home and area.

I happen to be one of those odd people who loves standing at the kitchen sink as long as I have a window to look out of.


Anonymous said...

How facinating to dig up the history of your home. We were given the deeds for our house dating back over 100 years to when it was built and I'd love to find out more about the people who lived here all those years ago.

Betty said...

I love that story about your home. How wonderful to be able to trace the history back to the original owner. My aunt's mother owned a laundry in San Francisco since before the big earthquake in 1906. She passed it on to her five daughters and it was only just recently that they sold it.

Samantha said...

Hi Kim,
what a great history your house house. Funnily enough there was a programme on Radio 4 about (Chinese) laundries today.

Thimbleanna said...

What a fun post. And how fortunate that your home has a family in it now that can love and appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim

I found your posting really interesting. I think that it must be fascinating to discover the history of the house in which you live.

I hope to live in an older or as they call them 'century' home one day and research the history of its former occupants.

Marie x

Ginny Gibson said...

Hi, the history on your house is really interesting and its good that you have been able to find out so much.

I thought of an ancient dentist when I saw those tools - ohhh ouch!

best wishes Ginny

Anonymous said...

What history your house & garden holds. Beautifully written yet again!
Charlotte xxx

Heidi said...

This was pure joy to read Kim! You are so fortunate to live in an old house and then also have the extra bonus of being able to discover bits of its past. I do hope you find out more about the treasures you found buried in the garden. You and your family are also now becoming intertwined with that past and becoming part of the home's history.

Jane said...

How wonderful to know the history of your house. I grew up and spent early married life in old houses with a lot of history and had always assumed that I would always live in an old house.
But we wanted to move to this area and we are not millionaires so we are now in a 1980s farm bungalow! I don't want to delve deeply into the people who lived here as we ripped up all their carpets and peeled off their paper.

In our old home I found a doll's head from c. 1830 and it seemed to be such a connection with the family who must have lived there before us.

You are very lucky

andsewtosleep said...

Delightful post. To know such history about the house you live in is just wonderful. Thank you for sharing this. Mary

Cornflower said...

I'll just echo everyone else's comments and say how fascinating that story is and I hope you go on to discover more. Lovely!

Betty said...

I tagged you this morning. Go read my blog. Looking forward to reading your 7 things.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim
Thanks for your comments, I too think they maybe potters tools as I trained in ceramics and they look very familiar. The Open House is going well, very tired and hectic! I should be there all next weekend, so drop in - No 16 on the Fiveways route!

Anonymous said...

What a delightful post! I love old houses that are full of stories. ♥

weirdbunny said...

I've just put some red geranums on the outside of my kitchen window to cheer me up whilst I do the dishes. Have a lovely weekend - love Julia x

meggie said...

How interesting to live in a house with such history! I love that you are respecting the previous occupants.
I loved finding 'treasures' about a house my Uncle & Aunt lived in, which had had many previous tennants.